All of My Heroes Rode Horses
I would like to start this months article by stating that the credit for the title and ideas behind this writing came from a late edition of America’s Horse, a magazine for AQHA members. So, Thanks, America’s Horse.
As I sat the other day and noticed the realm of today’s generation of “Super Heroes”, I was astounded by how many of them are not based in reality. It is almost as if our children and their friends are entirely served by a legion of heroes and superheroes that are cartoon characters, or virtual reality characters. As I noticed this, a question struck my mind that I thought I should explore.
Are there no real life heroes for these kids to look up to? Are there no heroes out there that do not depend on million dollar special effect artists from Hollywood to create them? Are there no heroes WORTHY of the title of HERO? Surely not…. I just was not paying attention. Right? I shall let you be the judge of that.
So, as I pondered this question, my mind settled on the fact that before I started judging this generation’s issue of heroes, maybe I should look at my own heroes. Hmmmm…Lets see, where do I start? Well, start at the beginning is always good advice, so I made a list…. starting with my first hero that I could remember. The funny thing was, that as I made the list, all of my hero’s had one thing in common…. they all rode horses! Go figure!
Wow, talk about easy! The first hero that popped into my mind was my earliest hero… my Dad. Prentice Olan Dees, Sr. His friends know him as “P.O.”, I call him dad, or “pops” when by myself, or “Paw-paw P.O.” in front of my kids. Some of my earliest memories of horses had my dad in them. Leading the pony, or old pictures that brought back floods of good times, always had dad sitting on a horse, or standing beside my mom while she sat on a horse. Funny thing is, I never actually remember my dad “liking” horses. He just supported those of us in his family who did. Guess that selflessness is part of what makes him a hero. Today, he is still one of my biggest heroes. He no longer rides horses, but he used to!
Then of course there was Mom, Nanny, Liz; given name, Elizabeth Ann (Dowdy) Dees. Just like dad, she was in those earliest memories, right along with the horses. The biggest difference is that here we are, nearly 40 years later, and she is still one of my favorite trail-riding buddies! She has always been there, supportive of all that I have done throughout all the years, just hanging out with the horses and me. Always, unfailing, devoted and loyal to me, and the horses.
There was Paw-paw too. My fathers father. He only had one leg. And in his golden years, he could not keep up with us through the swamps and hills of a Louisiana squirrel hunt. So, since he was a small man, he bought a small horse. But he rode his small horse, and left the keeping up to us!
Then we get to the list of heroes that lasted during my childhood. You know, those cowboys that were always on at 6 am when I was up early to get ready for school. You guessed it. The Lone Ranger. Tonto. The Cisco Kid and Pancho. Roy and Trigger. John Wayne and “Pepper” (Ben Johnson). Rowdy. The Rifleman. Marshall Dillon, Festus, Newly, Doc and especially “Miss Kitty”. Each and every one of the little guys that played in “The Cowboys” with John Wayne…..talk about a blast…a cattle drive when you were 12!!! I would have died to play one of those little cowboys. Ben Cartwright and his sons, Hoss, Adam, and Little Joe. And then Michael Landon went onto to the Little House on the Prairie” role, and even though he mostly drove his horses there…. he still rode occasionally. That list could go on and on and on, but they still ALL RODE HORSES! And hey…. I never heard not one of them use the “F” word! Again, Go Figure!
To go along with those Hollywood Heroes, I had Steve Burke and Russell Landrum to look up to. Literally. You see, when all I had was a little brown pony named Candy, they were riding taller in the saddle on Little John, and Jamaica, and couple of full sized horses. Every afternoon after school and all Saturdays and Sundays, we hit the trails. Now those same trails are roads all over the northern part of Henry County, GA. A few of you might know Russell; he took over Landrum Spring, a business started by his father, and one of his heroes. So, if you have a big truck and need spring work, look up my old “big horse hero”, and childhood friend.
Then the teenage years struck. In addition, all the things that go with being a teenage boy happened…. the trials and tribulations, and the heartaches of that first girlfriend. The only problem was that she did not ride horses! No hero, to say the least. However, the horses lasted and then came a special one. His name was Devil. I got him because my uncle was bitten by him, and wanted to shoot him, and he became my first real “problem” horse. That horse and I tried to kill each other six ways from Sunday. Did I mention he was my first stallion also? Well, a fourteen-year-old boy and his stallion were constant companions for three years, and it was time to move on. When I was seventeen, I graduated from high school and joined the US MARINES! I sold Devil, as it was unfair for my parents to care for him for four years while I was away.
While in the Marines, I found new heroes. And they rode horses. Chesty Puller. Raymond Davis. Dan Dailey. Famous Marines all, and they at one time in their careers, served mounted. WOW, to be a mounted Marine! Heroes for sure. (General Raymond Davis, who now lives not far from me, in Stockbridge GA, was a two time Medal of Honor winner, was at one time the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and promoted me to Corporal.)
As life continued, I separated from the Marines, and moved back home, and by Christmas, I had another horse. My list of heroes continued to grow, and guess what? They all rode horses. Some of you know the following names, and some of you do not. However, I feel it necessary to mention just a few of my heroes here, by name, so that they realize the special place they have in my heart and in my mind. I guess the most influential name in my life with horses has to be John Lyons. I have learned so very much from this decent, patient, kind and gentle man. At the time of this writing, I can honestly report to you, that I shed tears today on his behalf. You see, I learned that one of John’s heroes, Bright Zip had to be put down due to an extreme onset of arthritis in his spine that affected his hindquarters. God Bless you John, and thanks for sharing Zip with me. Ray Hunt, Buck Brannaman, Craig Cameron, Josh Lyons, and Carlton Crowe all made the list too.
Betty Evenson, Gene and Anne Ensminger, Ronnie Pesserillo, Donna Pieper, Marty Paulk, Pat Dean, Rebecca Kilgore, and all of the others that give so selflessly of their time and energy to the Georgia Equine Rescue League.
My good friends Bob and Dorothy Thomas, (who bred and insisted that Gunner was THE RIGHT HORSE for me), are my heroes for not only an obvious reason of leading me to Gunner, but for another reason as well. As I was trying to get started doing clinics, Bob and Dorothy gave me their facility, and their faith. Bob gave me a colt to start, as well as an opportunity to show off my skills in a Colt Starting Clinic, and we were off and running. Bob and Dorothy have continued to place their faith and trust in me, and now I start all of his colts for him, as well as cherish their friendship. I give THANKS, to you two…I shall never forget.
Then there is Devin. My son. My Hero. He has battled back from a childhood cancer, and now, anytime I am ready, so is he…and WE RIDE HORSES TOGETHER! There is no other victory in life that can take the place of a child that loves doing what daddy loves. And I have tried to live up to the challenge that Winston Churchill gave to the graduating cadets at West Point one year when he was the keynote speaker. He said, “Fathers give your sons horses. And give them good horses. For nothing bad has ever found a man through horses, except whatsoever trouble that was honorable.” I have given Devin horses…and given him good horses. I pray now, that whatsoever he faces, he faces it with the honor and courage that the horse teaches to him.
There are a few other heroes in my life, but guess what? They do not ride horses. They are the horses. The beautiful, majestic, proud, honorable horses. God Bless them all.
So, in closing, I must say, you can keep the Terminator. Have your Power Rangers, and your video game guys; Dak does nothing for me. Power Puff girls, they are yours! The drug using sports figures that everyone thinks are so cool, are out. No one that needs Cocaine, or Crystal Meth, or any other type of stimulant, besides horsepower can be found on my hero list. Give me Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, or Tom Selleck in a good western anytime.
I will leave you with just a few words from Randy Travis for you to mull over. Think about them, and see if they have any significance as you think about your heros.
“He said he was a cowboy when he was young.
He could handle a rope and he was good with a gun.
And my mama's daddy was his oldest son,--
And I thought that he walked on water.
Then he tied a cord to the end of a mop,
And said, "son, here's a pony, keep her at a trot."
And I'd ride in circles while he laughed a lot.
Then I'd flop down beside him.
And he was ninety years old in sixty-three
And I loved him and he loved me.
And lord, I cried the day he died,
'cause I thought that he walked on water.”
I guess that ole cowboy was a hero too!
Happy Trails, Soft Rains, and Warm Breezes,